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Borrowing fission expertise to help design MPEX

Jeff Ulreich leverages fission expertise and tools in his work on the Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment to advance fusion energy research. Credit: ORNL

Since joining ORNL last year, fusion’s Jeff Ulreich in the Blanket & Fuel Cycle Group says he has experienced multiple ways in which the lab’s fission expertise is leveraged for fusion.

One area is his collaboration with fission’s Justin Weinmeister in the Thermal Hydraulics Group.

“We are basically taking a fission skillset in thermal fluid analysis that we have developed here at ORNL for nuclear fission and are then applying it to a linear plasma device designed to support fusion research,” said Ulreich, who was at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics for 15 years prior to coming to ORNL.

Much of Ulreich’s work at ORNL has focused on the Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment, or MPEX, which is a next-generation linear plasma device for studying how plasma interacts with materials appropriate for future fusion reactors.

“The heat loads are extremely high for the infrastructure we must build for MPEX, and the device must survive the plasma environment,” Ulreich said. “We needed highly customized designs for vacuum vessel cooling, which required an expert in computational fluid dynamics. We found that in Justin Weinmeister in the nuclear energy division.”

Nuclear engineer Vittorio Badalassi, who worked in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands among other locations before joining ORNL, noted that the blending of fusion and fission within ORNL is a strength that sets the lab apart from other institutions.

“When you look around the world, other labs that are leaders in fission are not strong in fusion,” said Badalassi. “To my knowledge, we are the only lab that is a leader in both.”   ~ Amy Reed